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Archive for May, 2009

Last bit about bike paths and the such, at least until the next ridiculous happening.  I mentioned that others have written, much more eloquently than I, about the bike lanes popping up all over New York, perhaps none more so than BikeSnob NYC

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon on the bike paths these days.  Why do people ride with their helmet attached to their handlebars?  Are they going for the pro look (i.e., I’m just rolling up to the start line?)  I could maybe believe that if the people we’re talking about were on road bikes.

Now This Is Safety.

Now This Is Safety.

I’m all for freedom of choice and the right not to wear a helmet.  Personally, I put one on 99.99% of the time.  Firstly, because I want to reinforce what I tell my son when he’s on his push bike.  Secondly, because while I’m fairly confident in my ability to keep the bike upright, I don’t have complete control over what happens (e.g., my crash into that pedestrian on Fifth Avenue).

I have no issue with folks who don’t wear a helmet.  If you want to chance turning your brain to mush that’s your prerogative.   What I don’t understand is why someone would bother to bring a helmet along if they’re going to ride with it strapped to their handlebars.  Are the bars that fragile they need protection?  Did the helmet need some fresh air?  Do yourself a favor and leave the helmet at home.

That’s today’s view from the back.

Right Bar Grip is Well Protected

Right Bar Grip is Well Protected

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I know last week I said I wouldn’t be heading into Central Park anytime soon, but three days of taking care of the kids has made my training this week low on mileage and high on excuses.   My wife is out of town, and even with Grandma helping out, I am quickly rediscovering the greatest deterrent to riding, sleep deprivation.

The routine is actually pretty straightforward.  Just before midnight, my six-month old daughter starts stirring.  Just as she gets back to sleep, my son starts calling for me from his room and eventually ends up in our bed.  It’s hard to believe that a three-foot, 25 pound kid can manage to take up the entire bed but he does.   After a couple hours of sleep, my daughter is up for her nighttime feed and then we all get up between around 5:30am when my son wakes up and shouts for me to get up.  I’m tired just thinking about it.

I used to keep a training log where I marked every piece of information possible: weight, resting heart rate, distance, speed, hills, how I felt, how hard I thought the ride was.  After 9 years of slavishly denoting every detail of every ride, I discovered that the only thing that mattered was how much sleep I got. 

About the only time this didn’t hold true was a weekend trip to Italy for a friend’s wedding.  I left New York on Thursday night to begin a 13-hour journey (via Amsterdam) to Rome.   After a great dinner and wine-fest at my sister-in-law’s house, I found myself wide awake at 3:30 am (after only four hours of sleep).  Saturday was jammed packed, as I had to get the bike that Mario and Simone from Cicli Lazzaretti (my favorite bike shop) would be lending me for the Giro del Lazio (a local granfondo).  After a quick ride to make some minor position adjustments, I had just enough time to get back to my sister-in-law’s, shower and get dressed for the wedding.

The wedding was great, but, being in Italy, it started late and went long.  After getting to bed at 2:30 in the morning, the 6:00 am wakeup call feel like someone hit me over the head with a 2×4.  The race was a 22 km cronometro or time trial with a 13-km climb in the middle.   I don’t know if it was the wine, the food, or being back in my beloved Roma, but I had a great ride and finished 6th in my category and 20th overall.  Most likely, it was just the desire to get of the bike and crawl into bed. 

Anyway, that was a few years back and swearing off the Central Park or not, that’s just where I found myself with my friend Cal today.  We were doing some tempo riding single-file, when we passed a hairy-legged guy in a Belgian national champion’s jersey who proceeded to mix in.  Cal pulled up Cat’s Paw hill, and the other guy wasn’t coming around, so I told him to pull through.  That touched off a bit of an argument which ended when we upped the pace and dropped the guy.

I have no problem with people that want to sit on my wheel or even mix in.  Most of the time, I enjoy the company.  There is some etiquette though that you really shouldn’t need to be told, but I guess some people just don’t get it.  Therefore, Stijn Devolder, the next time you decide to jump in:

  • Ask first.  It’s common courtesy.  And I might just not be in the mood to have to worry about someone I don’t know sitting on my wheel.
  • Do what you’re asked.  If you do mix in, and someone asks you to pull through, then pull through.  You have no idea what I’m trying to accomplish with my workout and chances are good that you are only going to screw it up.  If I am asking you to pull through, it’s for a reason.  If you can’t or don’t want to, don’t mix in.
  • Don’t argue.  This should be obvious, but if I seem a little agitated because you are screwing up my workout, don’t give me lip.  You are uninvited in the first place.

So now I truly mean it, no more riding in Central Park.  And if you  happen to be out tomorrow and see someone taking a nap next to their bike on 9W, please don’t wake me.  I need the rest.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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Today’s post was going to about the never ending battle between me and my appetite until I came across the Kyle Smith’s article Cycle of Violence in this Sunday’s New York Post, which should get the blood boiling of anyone who reads it.

Here’s the 30 second Cliff Notes version:  Two years ago, Smith was running when he got hit by a cyclist on the Westside Highway bike path.  His anger still fully intact, he puts all the blame squarely on the shoulders of cyclists for every accident ever, essentially saying all cyclists act if they believe they’re the only one in the world.  Smith proceeds to lump all cyclists into three categories: Messengers of Mayhem (i.e., crazy, run you over as soon as look at you, bike messengers), Szechuan Psychos (i.e., take-out food delivery guys), and Lance-a-Louts (i.e., Lance Armstrong wannabes.)  Smith ends with a plea to Mayor Bloomberg to sic the police on “scofflaws who are actually dangerous.”

If it weren’t so misguided, the article would actually be pretty good.  The bit about the Lance-a-Louts was actually spot on and evoked a good laugh.  Unfortunately, Smith seems to forget that there are two sides to every collision (most of the time, anyway, as I have seen a runner in Central Park hit the deck when the closest person next to her was a good 50 meters away).  

Before I get into the whole thing, let’s start off by remembering that cyclists have to adhere to the NYC traffic laws and in most cases, pedestrians’ have the right of way.  Most of the accidents Smith describes are inexcusable – you just shouldn’t ride the wrong way down a street and given that you are probably going to go through the red light, you really need to let the pedestrians get through first.

Having said that, I have a couple of thoughts for Kyle Smith:

Bikepath by the U.S.S. Intrepid

Bikepath by the U.S.S. Intrepid

It’s a bike path not a jogging path.  It’s hard to tell from the article and there’s been some construction in the interim, but the black-top path that runs up and down the Hudson River is a bike path, not a jogging path.  Heck, there are signs clearly indicating who goes where.  I find it hard to believe that a cyclist veered off the bike path and onto the running/walking path to get a better view of the Intrepid.

Sign Clearly Indicating Bikeway and Walkway

Sign Clearly Indicating Bikeway and Walkway

Smith quotes a study that found 37% of cyclists didn’t stop at red lights and 13% were going the wrong way, although Smith is sure those numbers would increase if the pollsters observed for a longer period of time.  I did my own informal poll on the same bike path, and I found that 100% of runners ran on the bike path despite signs clearly indicating a separate running/walking path.  I too am certain that number would only go up if I observed for a longer period of time.

Runner on the Bikeway

Runner on the Bikeway

Imagine if runners, joggers, walkers, whatever you want to call them, actually acted without disregard for the 8.3 million other people in our city.  Just for kicks, let’s talk about them.  Let’s see, we have those:

With Their Head Firmly Planted Where The Sun Doesn’t Shine.  These are the runners who make a left or right turn without so much as a peek over their shoulder to see if they might just be stepping into someone’s path.  I’m not sure how these people have survived long enough to be classified as such.  Luckily, I’ve never gone down, but the number of near misses is rather astounding. 

Who Can’t Read “Don’t Walk”.  Actually, I think this is why the city changed the traffic lights from saying “Don’t Walk” to having a hand that changes colors between red and white.   Raise your hand if you’ve never been cruising along approaching an intersection with the light in your favor when the last car goes through the intersection which is then suddenly full of pedestrians crossing against the light.  No one has their hand up.  Right before we left for Italy, I was heading out for an early morning training ride, when my then-girlfriend, now-wife, said to me “Don’t hit anyone.”  (Don’t worry she got an earful later).  Coming home on Fifth Avenue, I’m bombing down a little downhill at around 48 kph in the middle of the street when the last taxi passes me ten feet from an intersection.  Next thing I know, the jaywalkers are three deep in the crosswalk, and I’ve got no way of stopping.  I almost made it through, but I didn’t.  Luckily no one was seriously hurt, but, it was one of the more violent collisions I’ve had on a bike.  Oh, and by the way, that pedestrian behavior is illegal (as per NYC Vehicle and Traffic laws on two fronts:  Section 4-03.b.3 which pretty mush states you can’t enter a roadway when you have a don’t walk signal and Section 4-04.b.1, “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impractical for the driver to yield.” 

Who Never Went To Kindergarten.  I learned how to share in kindergarten.  I’m teaching my 2.5 year old son the meaning of sharing now.  Yet when it comes to the bike path, the concept of sharing the roadway by moving to the right, seems to be foreign to most runners/joggers/walkers.  Why else would they be two and three abreast on the bike path (and again, it’s a bike path, not a running/jogging/walking path) hugging the center double yellow line, leaving cyclists with the unenviable choice of swerving into the oncoming lane or taking the tight space to the right.    Listen, if you have to run on the bike path, fine, there’s plenty of room, but stay to the right, out of the way.  It’s just not that hard.

I have a lifelong friend named Mike, who’s a runner, and a darn good one at that, being the owner of a sub-three-hour marathon personal best.  Mike’s also one of the nicest, most courteous, most thoughtful people I know.  He’s never been hit bike a bike or hit a bike or another runner because he actually thinks when he’s out there, as do the overwhelming majority of us.  Following Kyle Smith’s lead, though, I am no longer speaking to Mike.  I’m not sure which category Mike belongs to just yet, but I am sure it’s his fault that I had that accident with that pedestrian on Fifth Avenue.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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Today’s stage of the Giro d’Italia runs through the medieval town of Lucca, a place near and dear to my heart.  My in-laws live in Lucca, I got married there, and I’ve been fortunate to do some of the most amazing riding in and around the surrounding area.

I stepped in the proverbial dog stuff in Italy and raced for a team that was comprised of two groups: those of us who raced pretty much every weekend and the VIPs.  They ranged from Italian politicians to businessman to ex-pros, one of whom happened to be Maurizio Fondriest, the absolute nicest person you will ever meet.

One of my most humbling experiences on a bike was a ride organized by Maurizio in Montecatini Terme, a stone’s throw from Lucca.  We were a group of about twenty including several current/ex-pros including Andrea Tafi, Rolf Sorensen, Simone Biasci and Luca Scinto, plus some guys from Simone’s gran fondo team.

We hit a 10 km climb with me at the front trying to keep pace with Andrea Tafi, who lives in nearby Lamporecchio.  Andrea shouts out as I take off up the climb, “Hey, this one is long, and it’s hard.”  At least that’s what I think he said; my Italian wasn’t so great back then, so for all I know he could have been saying “Hey, knucklehead, get off your bike now before you get demoralized and never want to ride again”.

What I remember about the climb is that I was alone for all 10 kms and I suffered like a dog.  I was off the front for a maybe 2 kms, before the first of the pros passed me.  And once that train left the station, it just kept on rolling.  One by one they passed me at regular intervals as if I were standing still.  Adding to my misery, they all had that knowing smile.  About the 8 km mark, two guys, one from Saturn (who turned out to be Nathan O’Neill) and one from Panaria came by behind a truck doing what seemed like 80 kph.  It was an impossible speed, and that pretty much broke the camel’s back.  I limped the rest of the way to the top and rolled in to lick my wounds.

The descent was even worse, as I tried to stay on Maurizio’s wheel at 70+ kph.  He was going down one handed explaining to me the finer points of descending.  I was going down in white-knuckled terror praying for it to be over.  I am the world’s worst descender bar no one.

At the end, we all had a good laugh at my expense.  Each of them was nicer than the next, and getting my rear end handed to me has never been such a pleasant experience.  To this day, I still marvel at what those guys are capable of, which is why I want to scream every time I hear some local numbskull comparing their cycling to the pros’ cycling.  About the only thing we have in common is that our bikes have two wheels.

That’s my view from the back.

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Oh the joy when I wake up at 4:20 in the morning and find myself singing/humming the theme from Thomas the Tank Engine as I get dressed for a ride.  It could be the theme song from any one of the cartoons my 2.5 year old son gets to watch before he goes to bed.  Let’s see, there’s Curious George, Bob the Builder, Pingu and Barbapapa’, an Italian cartoon, any of whose themes could just kill you.  Today, it was Thomas the Tank Engine.

The south side footpath of the George Washington Bridge was closed this morning, leaving only the north side and its two sets of stairs on either end.  It doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, humping your bike up down a flight of stairs, twice no less, is enough of a deterrent at 5-something in the morning that we settled on a training ride in Central Park.  We should know better.

I met Sayid, a teammate and long-time friend, at Tavern on the Green at 5 am, our usual time and place for park training rides.  We rolled an easy lap to warm up (Central Park has a 9.6K/6 mile circuit which is closed to traffic from 7pm to 7am and from 10am to 3pm) and then met MtJ and MtC for some pace-lining (a note about the people’s names, I haven’t really mentioned I’m writing this to anyone, so some people’s names have been changed, as you might be able to tell).  Not much to say, other than it was hard, I sucked, uhm, I mean, I didn’t have the legs today, and it was all that much harder because over and over I was singing “They’re two, they’re four, they’re six, they’re eight”.  Dreadful, not the least of which is because even when I’m signing in my own head, I still sound awful, enough so to make nails on chalkboard pretty appetizing.  That’s the reason that once it gets light enough (i.e., when the sun is coming up by 6 am) we head over the bridge to train.

In any event, Central Park was where we were today.  The hardest part of the ride is not the actual training it’s when we’re rolling around doing some easy cool down laps and getting in some more miles.   It is a miracle there isn’t at least one 911 call for the ambulance every day. 

The first issue is that after 6am there are people everywhere.  The circuit is two-lanes for just about the whole thing.  Easy enough to figure that slower moving traffic should stay to the left, but you get people riding 3 or 4 abreast taking up the majority of two lanes.  Pick a lane people, any lane.  You could technically fit in between them I suppose, but no doubt there’d be a heart attack and several people on the deck.  Then there are the people who want to train in large groups.  We meet at 5am so we can go as hard as we want before the park fills up.  Why people think they can meet at 6:30 and ride hard in a group of 10 and then shout at everyone for screwing up their ride is beyond me.  I can almost understand the triathlon “training” groups; they just don’t know any better, but when I see groups from rival teams, it leaves me baffled. 

The second issue is the tri-”athletes”, who simply don’t know how to ride.  Apologies to any of you who can actually ride your bike, but I’ve yet to see one in the park.  They’re usually spread out all over the road leaving no room for anyone to pass and then get all jumpy when you do weave your way through them to pass.  My favorite move is when a group of them passes you on the right and then comes slamming across to the left leaving a good inch between your front tire and their rear tire.  Are they blind as well?  Anyway, the whole sport doesn’t make any sense.  Why would you want to be bad at three sports?  And before anyone starts in, let’s not forget Uto Bolts doing his first ironman making up 900 places on the bike (from 961st to 61st) and famously saying afterwards, “I would have finished first, but they don’t know how to ride.” 

The third issue in the park, and perhaps the most annoying, apart from my singing, is the incessant yapping you hear about the Giro, the Tour or whatever pro race happens to be on at the moment, about how this pro isn’t any good (as if any of us have any concept of what the pros go through or are capable of doing), and more annoyingly, about how these bike parts are faster/lighter/better, etc.  My general mantra is that I’ll worry about the weight of my bike when my body fat percentage is 3.  Let’s just say, I won’t be worrying about the weight of my bike anytime soon.

Maybe it’s just the grumpy old man in me, but, I’ll be heading over the GW Bridge from here on out. 

That’s my view from the back.

A post script today. I know a lot has been said and written (much more eloquently than I can do) about Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s attempts to add bike lanes in New York City, but shutting down Broadway is insane, not the least of which because it’s my route home from CP. I’m sure I’m just echoing many others’ thoughts, but Broadway (as with any other of streets with these ridiculous bike paths) has become unrideable. I tried the “bike path” today at least on the parts where there weren’t parked cars or trucks on it. I was almost hit head on somewhere in the forties as a pick-up truck made an illegal right turn on to Broadway going against traffic and came barreling up the bike path towards me, forcing me to swing out of the way to avoid getting smashed. It was a lot safer when I had to ride in the middle of the street with all the traffic. Oh well, it will be fun plotting a new route home.

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